“Arena” is set in a future Los Angeles in which virtual gaming has overtaken live (real?) sports as the main attraction. This new virtual gaming takes VR to a new reality. The players have to actually workout and train because the sensors that take them to the virtual world carry over the players’ actual abilities. If you sprain your ankle in the real world, it’s still going to be weak in the virtual. There’s also a crossover from the virtual to the real. While dying in the virtual world doesn’t actually kill you, you can still feel pain from the wounds inflicted in the virtual battles. The protagonist, Kali Ling, plays for one of the top teams in the RAGE tournaments which is basically an epic battle of capture the flag, just with towers for flags and actual weapons.
One of the main takeaways from this book is the idea of having to distinguish between virtual and real. It’s a topic that I believe has become prescient to our times. While we don’t quite have virtual games, we are close to it. Just look at the League of Legends championships that book stadiums around the world. Even on a smaller level, think about how people ignore the real for the virtual. Instead of enjoying food for food’s sake, people are more interested in Instagraming it. Instead of enjoying a vacation it’s now about recording every moment of it. One of the conflicts that arises in the book is what happens when you lose your grasp on the real and find yourself feeling “whole” in the virtual. There’s also sorts of problems that arise.
The author, Holly Jennings, does a great job of making the reader also question what is real and virtual. Sometimes when we’re in the virtual and come back to the real, I was wanting more of the virtual. By the end of the book I realized this wasn’t about immersing us in the virtual but giving us a peak into what these athletes go through. I’m looking forward to reading the sequels to this book because the world and the characters are interesting and complex. It’s a good read.